The five-time NBA champion, who ranks third in all-time scoring with 32 670 points, said in a first-person poem on the Players Tribune website that “this season is all I have left to give.”
The 37-year-old Bryant spent his entire 20-season career with the Lakers, the first NBA player to stay so long with the same club.
But Bryant, a member of two Olympic gold medal squads, has been nagged by injuries in recent campaigns and has struggled to find form this season, the Lakers being off to a miserable 2-13 start.
“My body knows it’s time to say goodbye,” Bryant said in a poem entitled “Dear Basketball” and meant as a love letter to the sport.
Bryant was introduced to a roaring ovation Sunday night when the Lakers hosted Indiana.
Bryant had each spectator Sunday given a “special message” printed on white paper and gold lettering at the top that read, “My love to this city, this team and for each of you will never fade. Thank you for this incredible journey.”
Bryant got off to a slow start Sunday going 1-for-7 before getting his first basket of the game 8:30 into the first quarter.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver was quick to respond to Bryant’s announcement, the signal that one of the greatest careers in the history of the sport was ending.
“With 17 NBA All-Star selections, an NBA MVP (2008), five NBA championships with the Lakers, two Olympic gold medals and a relentless work ethic, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the history of our game,” Silver said.
“Whether competing in the NBA Finals or hoisting jump shots after midnight in an empty gym, Kobe has an unconditional love for the game. I join Kobe’s millions of fans around the world in congratulating him on an outstanding NBA career and thank him for so many thrilling memories.”
‘MY BODY KNOWS IT’S TIME’
Bryant artfully crafted his goodbye to the game by hearkening back to his boyhood dreams of playing in the NBA and shooting baskets with socks rolled into a ball.
“You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream, And I’ll always love you for it. But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer. This season is all I have left to give,” Bryant wrote.
“My heart can take the pounding, My mind can handle the grind, But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye. And that’s OK. I’m ready to let you go. I want you to know now, So we both can savor every moment we have left together. The good and the bad. We have given each other, All that we have.”
Lakers coach Byron Scott spoke Saturday with Bryant about his decision.
“I thought he at least had another year in him,” Scott said. “It kind of shocked me when he told me. Sad more than anything. Somebody I care about, have a lot of respect for, it’s always hard when greatness like Kobe decides to hang it up.”
Barring injury, Bryant’s final game would be at home against Utah on April 13.
His farewell tour begins Tuesday at Philadelphia, his hometown.
“For him to be able to go around to all these cities and them to be able to appreciate him for what he has accomplished is great,” Scott said.
‘WE’RE ALL SAD’
It’s a unique situation for a Lakers team that lost iconic centre Shaquille O’Neal to a departure for Miami and past legend Magic Johnson to his announcement that he had the HIV virus.
“We’re all sad,” Lakers president Jeanie Buss said. “This era of Lakers basketball has been one of the most fun, exciting prosperous eras we could imagine. We’re in full support of him. But it’s still very sad.”
Bryant has averaged 25.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.5 steals over 1 280 games.
This season, with the Lakers stripped of much of their supporting cast to bolster Bryant, he is averaging 15.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists.
Bryant ended his poem to basketball without giving a true hint as to what the future might hold for him.
“We both know, no matter what I do next, I’ll always be that kid, With the rolled up socks, Garbage can in the corner, :05 seconds on the clock, Ball in my hands.
“5 4 3 2 1. Love you always, Kobe”